Sun 10 Apr 2011
|Cow Cow Davenport||5th Street Blues||Boogie Woogie Blues|
|Cow Cow Davenport||Jim Crow Blues||The Essential|
|Cow Cow Davenport||Cow Cow Blues||The Essential|
|Charlie Spand||Soon This Morning||Dreaming The Blues|
|Charlie Spand||Good Gal||Dreaming The Blues|
|Charlie Spand||Back To The Woods Blues||Dreaming The Blues|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||You Done Tore Your Playhouse Down||Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||Strut That Thing||Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||Brown Skin Girls||Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.1 1935-1939|
|Walter Roland||Red Cross Blues||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
|Walter Roland||Penniless Blues||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
|Walter Roland||Jookit Jookit||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
|Cow Cow Davenport||Chimes Blues||The Essential|
|Cow Cow Davenport||That'll Get It||The Essential|
|Cow Cow Davenport||State Street Jive||The Essential|
|Charlie Spand||Thirsty Woman Blues||Charlie Spand: 1929-1931|
|Charlie Spand||Moanin' The Blues||Dreaming The Blues|
|Charlie Spand||Hastings St.||Dreaming The Blues|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||Lofty Blues||Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||I Don't Know||Boogie Woogie Piano: Chicago-New York 1924-45|
|Walter Roland||45 Pistol Blues||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
|Walter Roland||Early This Morning ('Bout Break Of Day)||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
|Walter Roland||Railroad Stomp||Walter Roland: Vol. 1 1933|
|Cow Cow Davenport||Mama Don't Allow No Easy Riders||The Essential|
|Cow Cow Davenport||Railroad Blues||The Essential|
|Charlie Spand||Room Rent Blues||Dreaming The Blues|
|Charlie Spand||Ain't Gonna Stand For That||Dreaming The Blues|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||Crying Mother Blues||Broadcasting The Blues|
|Cripple Clarence Lofton||Streamline Train||Cripple Clarence Lofton: Vol.2 1939-1943|
|Walter Roland||House Lady Blues||Walter Roland: Vol. 1 1933|
|Walter Roland||Big Mama||Lucille Bogan & Walter Roland: The Essential|
Today's show spotlights a quartet of great, mostly little remembered, barrelhouse and boogie pianists who's heyday was in the 1920's and 30's. Piano blues records were very popular on record in the 20's and 30's and by the early 1940's there was a full-fledged Boogie-Woogie craze. Today's pianists plied their trade in the juke joints, clubs and rent parties of Chicago, Detroit and down south. Today's best known artist is undoubtedly Cow Cow Davenport who's "Cow Cow Blues" has become a standard. Also on deck are the extroverted piano work of the colorful Cripple Clarence Lofton and the more subtle and technically adept playing of once popular race artists, Walter Roland and Charlie Spand. The bulk of today's notes come from Peter Silvester's A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano and from the liner notes to Francis Smith's groundbreaking 21 volume piano series on the Magpie label.
While the piano blues is something of a declining art form it flourished on record in the 1920’s-30’s and with the boogie-woogie craze of the 1940’s. To quote Peter J. Silvester’s A Left Hand Like God: A History of Boogie-Woogie Piano: "Originating in barrelhouses and entertainment spots that served the black labor force who worked in the lumber and railroad industries throughout the deep south, it could be heard later at rent parties in Chicago, buffet flats in St. Louis and other black urban centers like Birmingham, Al and several towns in Texas among others. When the music evolved into boogie-woogie entering New York nightclubs like Café Society, pianists such as Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons became stars. In the 1940’s the boogie-woogie craze hit big but faded by the 1950’s."
Cow Cow Davenport is remembered most for his famous song "Cow Cow Blues" which has elements of the style that would flourish as boogie-woogie. Davenport learned to play piano and organ in his father's church from his mother who was the organist and it looked like he was going to follow in the family footsteps until he was expelled from the Alabama Theological Seminary in 1911 for playing Ragtime at a church function. Davenport's early career revolved around carnivals and vaudeville. His first break in pursuit of his objective came when he was offered work as a pianist at a club on 18th Street. Unable to read music, he began to compose his own tunes and to improve his keyboard skills, but he could still play in only one key. With a larger repertoire and a sharper technique he now began to tour the mining towns of Alabama playing in the honky-tonks. It was at one of these establishments hat he was heard by Bob Davies, a trained pianist, who ran a touring company called the 'Barkroot Carnival'. Davies invited Davenport to join the show as the pianist. One of the requirements was to accompany the women singers, which necessitated being able ro play in several keys. Davies took Davenport under his wing and began to teach him.
He toured TOBA with an act called Davenport and Company with Blues singer Dora Carr and they recorded together in 1925 and 1926. The act broke up when Carr got married. Davenport didn't cut a 78 record until 1927 although prior to that he made a number of piano rolls between 1925 and 1927 including three versions of "Cow Cow Blues." Cow Cow was desperate for money, so he negotiated with a piano-roll company, called the Vocal Style, to make some piano rolls of his new composition. Neither Mr Miller, the owner, nor any of the musical stores in Cincinnati, where the company was situated, would handle the piano rolls, so Cow Cow traveled from house to house selling them. He managed t o do this successfully o an equal-share basis with the manufacturer until he had repaid the cost of cutting the rolls. As the rolls sold well, Miller included 'Cow Cow Blues' on the company's catalog of piano rolls. We open our show with one of those rolls, "5th Street Blues", which was made in 1926.
As for Cow Cow's most famous song it came about when Dora left. He was deeply upset by this, so much so that he composed the "Railroad Blues", which finally took form as the "Cow Cow Blues". The new name was said to have been inspired by a section in the music where Charles was trying to use musical imagery to describe the signalman boarding the engine from the front of the train where the cow catcher was situated. During one theater engagement shortly after he had composed the number, and while playing the section, he sang, 'Nobody rocks me like my Papa Cow Cow do.' There was no particular reason why he introduced the expression "cow cow" but the name stuck and thereafter Charles was known to his fellow-pianists and his friends as "Cow Cow" Davenport.
Davenport briefly teamed up with Blues singer Ivy Smith in 1928 and worked as a talent scout for Brunswick and Vocalion records in the late 1920's and played rent parties in Chicago. They formed an act called the Chicago Steppers which lasted for some months and, in 1928, the partnership began to record for the Paramount Company. Among these sides were "Jim Crow Blues", a reflection of Davenport's racist experiences in the South:
I'm tired of being Jim Crowed, gonna Leave this Jim Crow town
Doggone my black soul, I'm sweet Chicago bound
Yes I'm leaving here from this old Jim Crow town
I'm going up North where they say money grows on trees
I don't give a doggone if my black soul is free
I'm going where I don't need no baby
|Jimmy Yancey(left) listens to Charlie Spand,
Chicago, 1940's. Photo from A Left Hand Like God.
He moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1930 and toured the TOBA vaudeville circuit and recorded with Sam Price. In 1938 Davenport suffered a stroke that left his right hand somewhat paralyzed and affected his piano playing for the rest of his life, but he remained active as a vocalist until he regained enough strength in his hand to play again. In the early 1940's Cow Cow briefly left the music business and worked as a washroom attendant at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street in New York. In 1942 Freddie Slack's Orchestra scored a huge hit with "Cow Cow Boogie" with vocals by seventeen year old Ella Mae Morse which sparked the Boogie-Woogie craze of the early 1940s; this led to a revival of interest in Davenport's music. He tried to make a "comeback" in the forties and fifties but his career was often interrupted by sickness. He died in 1955 of heart problems in Cleveland.
Despite his popularity, Charlie Spand remains a shadowy figure despite numerous attempts to uncover his story. The first factual information about Charlie Spand is his residence in Detroit, Michigan, where he played piano on Hastings and Brady Streets in the Black Bottom, Detroit’s black section. Together with pianists James Hemingway, Hersal Thomas and Will Ezell, Spand formed the boogie nucleus of the city. He likely also performed in Chicago as well during this period.
Spand’s recording career started for Paramount on 6th June, 1929; during the next two years he recorded 24 songs. He cut two titles at this first session: "Soon This Morning Blues" and "Fetch Your Water" with the accompanying guitarist thought to have been Blind Blake. Probably recorded by Paramount on the suggestion of Blake, Spand's first record was a hit. After three records he was considered important enough to be included on the Paramount "sampler" "Home Town Skiffle" alongside such established artists as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson, the Hokum Boys, Will Ezell and Blind Blake." By 1929 Spand had moved to Chicago, and recorded "45th Street Blues" at Grafton in 1930, the title being an indication of his recent Chicago address. In September 1930 Spand traveled to Grafton to record some more titles for Paramount, six in total. Spand’s last session for the Paramount label was recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin in July 1931, by which time the company was on its last legs.
Nothing much is known about Spand’s activities during the 1930's, although it is rumored that he returned to Detroit. Boogie-woogie was in full swing by the late 1930's. Artists like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Jimmy Yancey embraced the popularity of boogie-woogie and were subsequently recorded during the 1939-1940 period. Spand may have taken advantage of the revival of interest in piano blues and boogie-woogie. He got the opportunity to do two separate recording sessions for OKeh, on 20th and 27th June, 1940, recording a total of eight songs, including a remake of his "Soon This Morning." No major rediscovery story resulted and no coverage was given on the whereabouts of Spand, in contrast to Lofton and Yancey. After his final 1940 sessions there is concrete information about Spand. Several sources believed that he died in Chicago around 1975.
Regarding his style, Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 16: "His playing was typical of the Detroit pianists of his day, essentially consisting of two main styles, an insistent rolling-boogie using a walking octave bass in the key of F or occasionally in the key of Bb,and a deliberate, at times almost majestic, barrelhouse style using a stride piano bass …it is however, his lyrics that set Span apart from his contemporaries. Not only have numbers like "Soon This Morning" become blues standards, but we hear in his work very strong indications of the future direction of the music. His songs frequently have a continuity which come from a genuine sense of poetry rather than the mere stringing together of traditional verses. Spand was in fact one of the first real blues song-writers, foreshadowing the work of such 'thirties artists as Leroy Carr."
|Cripple Clarence Lofton (left) and Jimmy Yancey,
c. 1950's. Photo from A Left Hand Like God.
Cripple Clarence Lofton was born as Albert Clemens in Tennessee in 1887, although he is most closely associated with his adopted hometown of Chicago, where he was a popular entertainer noted for his energetic performing style that, in addition to piano playing and singing, included tap dancing, whistling, and finger-snapping.A description of Lofton is provided in an excerpt from Boogie Woogie by William Russell:
"No one can complain of Clarence's lack of variety or versatility. When he really gets going he's a three-ring circus. During one number, he plays, sings, whistles a chorus, and snaps his fingers with the technique of a Spanish dancer to give further percussive accompaniment to his blues. At times he turns sideways, almost with his back to the piano as he keeps pounding away at the keyboard and stomping his feet, meanwhile continuing to sing and shout at his audience or his drummer. Suddenly in the middle of a number he jumps up, his hands clasped in front of him, and walks around the piano stool, and then, unexpectedly, out booms a vocal break in a bass voice from somewhere. One second later, he has turned and is back at the keyboard, both hands flying at lightning- like pace. His actions and facial expressions are as intensely dramatic and exciting as his music."
Owing his nickname to a limp from which he suffered, he became a favorite of early jazz collectors during the boogie-woogie craze of the late 1930's along with Meade Lux Lewis, Jimmy Yancey, Cow Cow Davenport, and many others. Born in Tennessee he lived most of his life in Chicago becoming a fixture on the Chicago nightlife scene. He owned his own nightclub called the Big Apple where he ran his own boogie school teaching youngsters the art form. Between 1935 and 1943 he cut close to forty sides for Vocalion, Swaggie, Solo Art and Session including exuberant pieces such as “Brown Skin Girls,” “Policy Blues,” “Streamline Train,” and “I Don’t Know,” the latter a number one R&B hit for Willie Mabon in 1952. The bulk of these were solo sides with guitarist Big Bill Broonzy adding support for two sessions. In addition Lofton provided accompaniment to Red Nelson, Sammy Brown, Al Miller and Jimmy Yancey. Lofton remained on the scene cutting sides for the Gennett, Vocalion, Solo Art, Riverside, Session and Pax labels. He stayed around Chicago until his death in 1957 from a blood clot in the brain.
As for his playing style, Peter Silvester writes: "Lofton was an eclectic performer who played in two keys, C and G. While his pounding style and interpretation were his own he obtained inspiration from the themes of other pianists. His most compelling composition, 'Streamline Train', was inspired by 'Cow Cow Blues', while 'Pinetop's Boogie-woogie' was transformed into a very powerful and almost unrecognizable number. He was an undisciplined pianist and would often begin playing a new chorus before he had fully completed the one he was playing. The twelve-bar pattern would sometimes be reduced to ten, as was the case in 'I Don't Know' or eleven and a half bars, as in some interpretations of 'Streamline Train'. What he lacked in discipline, however, he more than made up for with vivacity and exuberance. I n some respects he can be compared to players like Jimmy Yancey and Montana Taylor, because their playing was untouched by time and their recordings reflected accurately the closed community of the rent party. None of them was required to perform relentlessly for the public, as Johnson, Ammons and Lewis were obliged to do when they became commercially popular. Lofton remained untouched by commercialism to the end."
As Bob Hall and Richard Noblett write in the Piano Blues vol. 6: "In the annals of the blues there are many artists who have made outstanding contributions to the music, but whose personal lives remain a mystery. Just such a man is Walter Roland, who during the Depression, recorded over ninety issued sides for ARC as a soloist and accompanist."As for his style and influence, they write: "…There is no doubt that Roland was a major and highly influential figure in his time, and his recorded output contains compositions which have become part of the repertoire of a host of younger musicians. …He was a highly accomplished pianist capable of playing in two distinct styles. The first employed a simple rolling boogie woogie bass, most often in the key of F, played in a variety of tempos. The second, less common barrelhouse style employed a stride piano bass of alternating octaves and chords, usually in the key of E. Throughout Roland's work certain distinctive treble phrases emerge, and particularly striking is his use of repeated single note staccato triplets, foreshadowing the use of the same device by the post-war Chicago pianists."
Roland was born at Ralph, Tuscaloosa County, Alabama on 20 December 1902 (according to his Social Security documents) or 4 December 1903 (according to his death certificate). Roland was one of the most technically proficient of all blues pianists, and in addition he displayed considerable feeling in his playing and singing. He was also an able guitarist, and recorded several titles backing his own vocals and those of others, playing guitar. Roland was said to have been based in the 1920's or 1930's around Pratt City, near Birmingham, Alabama.
Although his recording career began in 1933, it is evident that Walter was already an accomplished musician with a fully formed style. Roland partnered Lucille Bogan when they recorded for the A R C labels between 1933 and 1935, in the course of which, he recorded in his own right. Walter's first disc, "Red Cross Blues" has since become a blues standard, versions having been recorded by Sonny Scott, Sonny Boy Williamson, Champion Jack Dupree, Robert McCoy, Forest City Joe, and many others. In 1933, he was recorded at New York City for the American Record Company, and he had apparently traveled to the session with Lucille Bogan and guitarist Sonny Scott. His best-selling recording was "Early This Morning", a reworking of an earlier Paramount recording by Charlie Spand, "Soon This Morning", but Walter was successful enough to continue recording until 1935.
At some later time, possibly as late as 1950, Walter became a farmer. Roland was reputedly playing guitar as a street singer in the 1960's. As well as Birmingham, he worked around Dolomite and the Interurban Heights, around Brighton and elsewhere. In about the late 1960's, Walter was trying to be a peacemaker in a domestic argument between a neighboring husband and wife and one of the disputing parties fired a shotgun, with the result that Walter was blinded by buckshot. By 1968, Walter had retired from music because of his blindness, and was cared for by his daughters at Fairfield, near Miles College. In 1968, he applied for an old age pension. He died there of bronchogenic carcinoma on 12 October 1972.
-Charlie Spand – Back To The Woods by Alex van der Tuuk (Blues & Rhythm No. 217, 2007) (PDF)
-Cripple Clarence Lofton In Memoriam by Albert J. McCarthy (Jazz Monthly, November 1957 p. 31-32) (PDF)
-Walter Roland Blazed Through Music World Then Faded by Ben Windham (Tuscaloosa News Feb 27, 2000) (PDF)